Monday, December 29, 2003

New mayor is Reading-bred

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

READING - When Robert "Bo" Bemmes is sworn in Thursday as mayor, he'll be standing on grounds steeped in his family's history.

The site of his inauguration, the Valley Youth Organization Haffey Fieldhouse, is near the house where he and his five siblings grew up and near the site of his great-grandfather's house, which was torn down about 30 years ago.

"I used to go back into those fields when I was young and get in all kinds of trouble. Now I'm going back there and getting into more trouble," he said.

Bemmes, who has been a city councilman for four years, defeated two other candidates in the November election. He succeeds Earl Schmidt, a Democrat who is retiring after nine years as mayor.

Bemmes says the toughest challenge in his first year as mayor will be to keep the city in stable financial condition.

Like many small cities whose economy had been based on heavy manufacturing businesses, Reading has struggled financially in recent years.

In the past two years, Reading has used some of its $4 million in electric utilities bonds funds to help balance the budget. But Bemmes said the city must find other ways.

"Most of that money is gone," he said. "We can't rely on that money much longer to make our budget whole."

He promises to trim the city budget as much as possible - "especially middle-management salaries" - before giving serious consideration to any proposal that would raise taxes.

Despite the immediate financial challenges, Bemmes is optimistic about Reading's economic future. Two major reasons fueling his optimism are the Reading Road streetscape project that's just gotten under way and the University of Cincinnati's new Genome Research Institute in Reading, which received $9 million from Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier program.

The streetscape project will help revive the city's business district, Bemmes said. The state grant to the Genome Research Institute, at the former Marion Merrill Dow site, could create 400 to 500 jobs.

"If we can just make it through this next year," he said, "we're going to be in good shape."



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